Open Letter to Stakeholders

Dear Stakeholders

Firstly, a big thank you to everyone who has helped The Cortex Hub this year. This includes, but not exclusive to, our board team, entrepreneurs, partners, sponsors and everyone who played a vital role in making this year a success.

We would like to take this opportunity to give you an update on what has been happening within the Cortex Hub this year and what we would like to achieve in coming year.

The Cortex Hub

Established in January 2015, The Cortex Hub is an ICT business incubator which aims to produce global ICT players through leading research and development, business incubation and business acceleration platforms that will activate, nurture and support technology innovation. Since its inception, the goal of The Cortex Hub has been to create an innovative society that is able to sustainably leverage current technologies towards solving societal problems.

The vehicle for achieving this goal has always been through the establishment of sustainable technology start-ups, strong partnerships with universities, ICT providers, entrepreneurs and other business incubators to create a robust entrepreneurship ecosystem within and beyond the Eastern Cape region. Though the task is itself quite large, we believe that the right mix of committed people, enthusiasm and hard work will help in building the bridge between the dream we have proposed, and the gains of making it a reality.

Oracle Certification

Our timeline consists of a number of explicit subdivisions designed to guide our entrepreneurs in the journey of starting and developing their own businesses. The training portion of the timeline, which fulfilled its objective of equipping them with the skills and knowledge required to create the products they will bring to market at the conclusion of 2016, was critical during this period.

Through the training provided we saw our entrepreneurs learning various skills from expert teachers provided by the Oracle University, which set them up with the knowledge required not only to build their own products and services, but also prepared them for later certification from the Oracle University.

One of the highlights of this period occurred on 20 July 2015 when The Cortex Hub had the pleasure of hosting some of the Oracle University’s highly esteemed Directors for the graduation ceremony. The visitors consisted of Wendy Beetge, Oracle’s Transformation Director; Pragasen Moodley, Oracle University Director; delegates from MICT SETA and the founder of The Cortex Hub and Chairman of Dimension Data MEA, Dr. Andile Ngcaba.

The Cortex Hub is proud to announce that each of its entrepreneurs underwent and successfully completed Oracle University’s Java Fundamental (SE7) Training. Widely known as a staple in the software industry, this training enables our entrepreneurs to develop enterprise grade software using the Java programming language. Pursuant to this, our entrepreneurs now have the opportunity to further pursue four levels of certification, namely: associate, professional, master and expert, in areas such as database, Linux and various other business applications.

We are extremely proud of our entrepreneurs and grateful to the Oracle University and mostly, extremely excited to see how the skills acquired during this training will contribute towards the game-changing companies that will soon emerge from The Cortex Hub.

Click here to read our Oracle University blog post.

Women Hackers Unite

In celebration of women’s month, August 2015, the Cortex Hub hosted its inaugural Women Hackers Unite Hackathon and Conference. About 100 women from across the continent gathered at the Cortex Hub in East London. The women came ready to work for 72 hours to come up with a creative and business savvy software solution to a problem currently facing women.

Women Hackers Unites’ main focus is to empower and encourage women to showcase their talent while solving problems relating to the theme presented in that year. Preparation for Women Hackers Unite 2016 has already started and the theme will focus on developing solutions that affect the youth of today – #YouthEmpowerment.

Click here to read more about Women Hackers Unite.

What The Entrepreneurs Have Achieved This Year

The Cortex Hub time line emphasises learning in its first year. Our belief being that a successful entrepreneur is bolstered not only business smarts and boardroom savvy, but by an understanding of the industry that they function within.

Our entrepreneurs started this year by building this foundation, gaining an understanding of the national and international bodies which regulate the tech industry. These included internet bodies such as ICANN, academic bodies such as IEEE and bodies in emerging industries such as the Connected Car Consortium.

Following this brief introduction to the industry, our entrepreneurs have completed training in a number of fields including alternative energies, the Internet of Things, Big Data, Machine Learning and Cyber Security and Warfare. This theoretical knowledge has been further bolstered by practice, with our entrepreneurs founding internal Research and Development focus groups in each of these fields. The mandate of these focus groups has been to take this knowledge from theory and make it real by finding applicable business cases and creating products that can be sold to real customers.

We are proud to say that to date our entrepreneurs have built product environments that have facilitated the building of prototypes based on customer demand and will be able to ship products by February next year.

San Francisco Trip

During the week of 23 October to 1 November, The Cortex Hub sent delegates consisting of board members and entrepreneurs to San Francisco, USA. The objective of the trip was to familiarise the representatives of The Cortex Hub with the entrepreneurial culture and eco-system of Silicon Valley while giving the team an opportunity to assess incubators/accelerators which in turn will help them construct an informative decision on which incubator/accelerator to partner with from that region.

The partnership will enable us to relocate our best performing business or the entrepreneurs that shows the most potential and development at the Cortex Hub to the chosen partner incubator/accelerator in order for them to learn Silicon Valley techniques used to scale businesses, whilst also receiving exposure to some of the world’s most powerful venture capital firms and investors.

Click here to read more about the trip and the findings from the team about the accelerators and incubators in Silicon Valley.

Future Highlights of What We Want To Achieve Next Year with The Cortex Hub

Achieving the goal of creating global ICT players will require The Cortex Hub to provide business creation platforms that allow for its entrepreneurs to both think at scale, and effectively create businesses that will have a meaningful impact on global markets.

The Cortex Hub aims to achieve this goal through three vehicles, namely:

  • An incubation platform, which will behave as a learning and development platform that will give entrepreneurs both theoretical and practical experience in key business fields such as assessing markets, pitching ideas, creating products and using the lean approach to develop platforms;
  • An acceleration platform, which will provide entrepreneurs with focused mentoring if for their specific start-ups as well as giving them greater exposure to further funding opportunities and the global Venture Capital community; and
  • A global connection platform, which will give our entrepreneurs access to a global community of entrepreneurs, experts, academics and stakeholders that will allow them to challenge their thinking with industry while building their reputation outside the Hub.

While The Cortex Hub is certainly no stranger to business incubation, our recent visit to Silicon Valley, coupled with guidance gained from an international community of friends and mentors, informs our decision that this is the right choice to building something world class. We look forward to building on the learnings of 2016, and are sure that this will be a fruitful year.

It goes without saying that the achievement of this goal impossible without the continued support of our mentor and advisor communities and the support gained from our corporate partners. While the contributions of each individual partner has been extremely important, The Cortex Hub would like to specially thank both Convergence Partners and MICT SETA for their special contributions towards establishing The Cortex Hub and to keeping it running through the contribution of entrepreneurial stipends – a gesture which opened the doors of The Cortex Hub to a number of entrepreneurs who would have otherwise not have been able to join us for this year.

We look forward to working with each of our partners in the coming year and know that we will continue to do more together.

Regards

The Cortex Hub Team

 

The Cortex Hub CEO: The journey – Luyolo Makalima.

LuyoloI would like to thank the entire Cortex Hub community – the Chairman, Remote team, Entrepreneurs and also the illustrious visitors who have attended the Cortex Hub days on end, for the heartfelt support they have shown me throughout my term as CEO in the first generation of what will soon be the greatest incubator in South Africa and ultimately Africa.

This journey has been an incredible one, working with people who really rose to the occasion at all times in assisting in running and coordinating the Cortex Hub very ably in a period of hard work, structuring ,organising, articulating and implementing of strategies and plans of the Cortex Hub’s ambitious idea. This stage has been of refining raw talent, such that each of the 32 entrepreneurs have the necessary skill set to yield a successful business in the very near future.

I have personally learnt a great deal about the running of a complex structure such as this. Learning to typically encourage the entrepreneurs to devote themselves full-time to their new ideas, set curriculum and structure was the most rewarding skill learnt. There is no doubt that The Cortex Hub can only grow in the right direction with the new CEO, Mr Mandilakhe Hlaula, great things shall prevail. Good luck my friend.

About Luyolo

Luyolo Makalima is an innovative young man who is always striving for opportunities to grow beyond limitations. Ultimately his goal is the discovery of new things in the world around him. He is the former CEO at The Cortex Hub.

Luyolo matriculated in 2007, and holds a Bachelor Degree in Construction Management from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU). He has served in positions such as National and International Relations Officer in the Green Campus Initiative, and was a finalist in the NMMU Sanlam Business Challenge. He also served in a Non-Governmental Organisation, Bluebuck Network as a Media and Marketing Manager, and was a delegate for the Association of College and University Housing Officers in the Southern African Chapter Conference.

Luyolo recently represented The Cortex Hub at a technology conference, Skolkovo Startup Village in Moscow, Russia

Big Data (What is Big Data)

Written by: Athini Bashe

There are a number of questions that arise when one talks about Big Data. This is the first blog in a series that will talk about Big Data. The aim is to help readers understand:

  • What Big Data is;
  • How Big Data can help corporate and individuals;
  • What the advantages and disadvantages of Big Data are; and
  • How Big Data can (or is) helping South Africa and the entire world.

What is Big Data?

Before getting too technical, let’s define “Big Data” – Big Data is a phrase used to describe the enormous volumes of structured, semi-structured and unstructured data being generated in the world today. Why is Data so important? Well, Data allows you to understand what is going on at a given point in time (real time analytics), but it also allows you to foresee and predict things based on the data you have already gathered. Having these large data sets stored on storage medium becomes an issue when it comes to processing and analyzing the data. There are a number of technologies built to help you turn Data into information.

What is structured, semi-structured and unstructured data?

Structured data is the data stored on a relational database that has some schema on write. Here’s an example: Let’s say you have a database that contains information about customers then inside the database you would have a customer’s table with a predefined schema for storing data in rows and columns (customer_id, customer_name and customer_address).

Semi-structured data does not conform to a formal structure. Examples of semi-structured data would be xml and csv files.

Unstructured data is your pdf, doc, emails, and posts on social media, GPS data and videos.

Storing large amounts of structured, semi-structured and unstructured data on one storage medium requires a lot of computing power. Now the question is what are the technologies that are available to store this data? We will get to this in a few posts.

I believe there’s a lot that Big Data has to offer and I will continue blogging and discussing the use cases for big data; the platforms that can be used to manipulate Big Data and most exciting of all, the future of Big Data.

In my next post I will be touching on a bit of history about Big Data and the benefits that Big Data can offer. In the meantime, please feel free to comment below.

UAV’s (drones): Where Are These Flying From?

Written by: Natasha Mahlathi

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, famously known as “Drones” have been trending for a while now but where these magnificent pieces of technology surfaced from is the most common question being asked.

In this blog I will refer to UAV’s as drones have been around for centuries, they have not always been used as aerial technology in fields such as conservation, commerce, search & rescue and scientific research in the lengthy list of its usages. Its origins can easily be traced to the military. The first reusable radio-controlled aircraft in the thirties was built for target practice by the Royal Marines and is often considered the earliest incarnation of the models used worldwide today.

drone

The figure above depicts an Aerial Target (AT) developed in 1916. AT was a radio-controlled, unmanned airplane conceived in the late 1916s, designed both for defense and as a flying bomb. Even though these early drones do not specifically meet today’s definition of an Unmanned Ariel Vehicle, the concept was well established and is the result of these new and more technological aircrafts.

Today, drones are no longer solely operated in the military space, but there has been a major transition to smaller and more technologically advanced versions used for all sorts of purposes by companies and individuals and in various industries.

The first pilotless aircrafts were initiated or developed during wars even though they were primarily for surveillance and for serving war purposes. These gradually evolved and drones being used as training tools for anti-aircraft gunners is a testament to that growth. As a, result the war jet engines started to be applied to jet engines and other aircrafts.

Interest in the UAV technology has grown rapidly, with drones being more accessible and affordable. The culture of startups has greatly made pathway for more business to tap into the airspace economically as well. The future definitely looks bright and drones have a chance of being more useful with technology and policy makers finally catching up.

Look out for my next blog which will focus on the dynamic variance of drones and the impact that they have on the world.

Please feel free to leave a comment below.

The Hard Thing about Culture

Startups are stressful work.

For everyone.

Not just those who lead them, but for those who are in them as well. One of the things that make start-ups so difficult is what a lot of people don’t tell you about start-ups: They’re often filled with chaos. And in times of chaos, people can get really, really crazy.

But startups can also be really fun. Unlike most companies and mature corporate environments, startups are one of the few places where the people in it can obsessively create the kind of work environment that they want to work in. The size of a startup lends itself to creating a team that is able to agree on the same values and beliefs that’ll help it to create the kind of culture it wants.

The term culture is a word that’s used a lot in the entrepreneurial press, sometimes with explosive results. In tech giants like Google and Apple, that have the resources to tie their culture closely to their benefits, culture is often mistaken for the fun office spaces and access to free food that companies sometimes provide.

But that isn’t quite it.

Culture is really about what a company really values. Not all the “paradigm shifting, world changing, inclusive policy” fluffy stuff that they put on their websites, but the day to day, in the grind stuff that actually happens. For example, though a company may say that it values team work, if that company is always rewarding individual performers for individual jobs, would you believe that teamwork was really what it was all about?

Hard things about culture

Because I work in distributed teams almost exclusively, I’ve had to learn that building culture is something that needs my focus as a priority (one of the best blogs to read on distributed teams, culture included, is Zapier – their stuff is amazing). Co-located teams, though, sometimes don’t have the luxury of seeing this up front themselves.

With co-located teams, it’s easy to ignore culture building with the expectation that it will naturally happen. In 99% of situations (made up number), this is simply not true, but by the time a co-located team realizes it, it might be too late to repair their culture.”

Why is this important? Because a great culture is about a lot more than just the fun and the perks that you can have in a work place. A great culture creates the foundation on which the company can build for its performance. AirBnB’s Brian Chesky puts it this way:

“A company’s culture is the foundation for future innovation. An entrepreneurs job is to build the foundation.”

A great example of this, is the culture that’s created, even temporarily, when high performance individuals come together into a team. A great example of this is the team that worked on WHU2015 (I’ll comment on the Board perspective since that’s what I had real insight into).

Women Hackers Unite was by far the most ambitious project we took on this year. The girls who made up that organising team were under the crunch, having to work late, ignore family and friends, focus on the goal and get things done. Some great stories came out of the near death experiences there – rallying the troops for day  two and three after the organisational disaster that was day one definitely stands out. And I’m not even going to mention the stand-out achievement of the 350 000 impressions on Twitter… the team pulled together, they pulled off a major project and they succeeded.

Had this team had a different culture. Had they decided, for example that their team would value 09:00 to 17:00 rather than getting the work done. The WHU story would be very different from what it is now.

Who’s job is culture

A lot of the press out there puts the responsibility for culture at the feet of the CEO or founder of the startup, but my personal opinion is that that’s a bit flawed. Hear me out: At the end of the day, the founder or CEO are not the only people working at the startup (hopefully), and in a team as nuclear as an early startup team, everyone’s attitude and aptitude affect the potential success or failure of the venture.

While the CEO or founder can be the keeper of the vision and can set the bar for how it should be, if literally every single person in the team is not 1 000% on board with what the culture should be and is actively working towards that culture, then there will be problems.

In a podcast recorded at Stanford, Ben Horowitz’ speaks a little bit about his book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things and how the inspiration for it all came about. One of the points related to culture he talks about is how he constantly got advice about how to hire:

“All the VC would tell me: Ben, you know what the key to a great company is? Hire A Players. And I’d be sitting there like ‘oh great, because I was going to hire a bunch of f***ing idiots and now you’ve unlocked the secret for me!’”

Though Ben’s manner is a bit cheeky, the excerpt has some truth to it. Building a great company, and a great team means building with people who want to build a great company and a great team too. This means that the job of creating a great culture is everyone’s job.

To paraphrase Gahndi, each member of the team needs to “create the culture they want to see in the world.”

What do you think about creating corporate culture in a startup environment? I’d like to hear your thoughts on it. Especially in a situation where you may have let culture go and now you’re bringing it back.

Please shoot me a message over email, or leave a message in the comments

Cortex Hub visits Silicon Valley

During the week of the 23 October to 1 November the Cortex Hub sent delegates consisting of board members and entrepreneurs to San Francisco, USA. The objective of the trip was to familiarise the representatives of the Cortex Hub with the entrepreneurial culture and eco-system of Silicon Valley while giving the team an opportunity to assess incubators/accelerators which in turn will help them construct an informative decision on which incubator/accelerator to partner with from that region.

The partnership will be in the form of relocating our best performing business, the entrepreneurs that shows the most potential and development at the Cortex Hub, to the chosen partner incubator/accelerator in order for them to learn Silicon Valley techniques used to scale businesses, whilst also receiving exposure to some of the world’s most powerful venture capital firms and investors.

The trip also had the delegates visit Oracle OpenWorld 2015, in order to witness some of Oracle’s latest breakthroughs in software technology, possibly for deployment into the processes of the Cortex Hub.

This blog will provide some insight into the accelerators that had models that stood out most to the delegates, though the jury is still out on which incubator/accelerator they will choose to partner with. Below are summaries of each incubator/accelerator and recommendations from the team on what they saw, liked and are most likely to implement at the Cortex Hub.

Plug and Play

Plug and Play is the inspiration of innovation ideal for entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes. They offer co-working space for entrepreneurs, office space for 5 to 100 people and a dry lab for testing. Plug and Play offers entrepreneurs with resources to start working immediately in a professional and high-energy environment. Plug and Play is a global innovation platform, they connect start-ups to corporations, and invest in over 100 companies every year. They have 22 locations across the world with success stories that include PayPal, Dropbox, SoundHound, Zoosk and Lending Club.

500 Start-Ups

500 Startups is a startup and an accelerator based in Silicon Valley and Mexico City. The 500 Startups acceleration program runs a four-month acceleration period for each intake. In these 4-months the participants receive mentorship, office space, hands-on sessions as well as an opportunity to interact with like-minded people.

Draper University

The Draper University is an incubator/accelerator based in Silicon Valley, which offers a 7-week residential program in entrepreneurship. This innovative and immersive 7-week program consists of exciting talks by all-star speakers, creative hands-on activities to teach attendees how to start a start-up, and opportunities to build one’s entrepreneurial network through interaction with other entrepreneurs and mentoring by venture capitalists. The program requires residency at the Draper University and is interested in entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 28. They consider this 7-week program to be an alternative to an MBA in entrepreneurship.

Below are the recommendations the delegates came up with based on the culture they witnessed in Silicon Valley, recommendations that will be used to raise the bar at the Cortex Hub and in other tech incubators in Africa.

  • The Cortex Hub entrepreneurs need to join tech communities and take part in meet-ups occurring all over the world. We will need a project management team within the hub that will prepare a roster of schedules for these. The aim of this exercise is to establish a global digital footprint and they will also serve as content for our podcasts.
  • The Cortex Hub needs to establish a proper understanding amongst our entrepreneurs of the Silicon Valley culture. A culture that will make them hungrier for success and motivate them to give the duration of the program their all. The Cortex Hub needs to engrain the entrepreneurs with the benefits that await them should they become successful in this program.
  • We need to establish partnerships with VC funds that may not necessarily be the investors in all the businesses established at the Cortex Hub, but they need to become involved in order to help our entrepreneurs become pitch-ready. This will also help us imprint our name within the entrepreneurial eco-system.

There were more recommendations that the delegates came up with but these will constitute part of a secret recipe to success in creating Africa’s most successful technology incubator/accelerator! All in all, the trip was a productive one as the delegates came back inspired and with a vision far greater than the one with which they had before the visit.

Please feel free to leave a comment below.

Women Hackers Unite Hackathon

Written by: Zimkhitha Matshangaza

On the 25th – 27th of August 2015 we hosted our inaugural Women Hackers Unite Hackathon. About 100 women from across the continent gathered at the Cortex Hub in East London ready to work for 72 hours to come up with a creative and business savvy software solution to a problem currently facing women. Amongst the judges was Christine Abernathy, Developer Advocate of Facebook. R150 000 was awarded by the judges to ‘Digital Natives’ for their ‘Update Me’ education app which bridges the gap between busy parents and their children’s school. Using the ‘Update Me’ website and mobile app, parents should be able to access a direct digital connection to their children’s school and receive updates regarding their children’s progress. These updates include:

  • Access to registers to monitor daily class attendance;
  • Ability to interact with teaching staff;
  • Monitor a child’s class marks; and
  • The ability to receive official term reports from a child’s school.

The ‘Update Me’ app can also be adapted to suit other business or personal forums that require tracking.

Women Hackers Unite consisted of two parts, the hackathon and the conference. The aim of the hackathon was to encourage women to be the creators of solutions for women and to encourage more women to become interested in, and play an active role in the creation of technology solutions thereby closing the gender gap in the technology sector. The objective for the Hackathon was to allow women to come up with solutions for challenges and opportunities women face in their daily lives.

The conference part of the event was targeted at all career-focused ladies and ladies seeking to, in the popular words of Sheryl Sandberg, ‘Lean In’ to their careers. A number of Africa’s most successful women in business came together to discuss and come up with the appropriate solutions concerning the main issues affecting women in business.  The panel discussions that took place had themes like:

  • Encouraging women to succeed in the world of entrepreneurship,
  • how technology can assist women in creating a work-life balance
  • How important is mentorship for your life/career – Behind Every Success Is a Group of Mentors and Motivators.

On the last day of the event we also hosted a seminar for high school girls.

Fashion Freax Competition – the best dressed individual during the course of Women Hackers Unite walked away with a handsome cash voucher of R15000.  The individual had to have uploaded a photo of their outfit onto the FashionFreax application and get as many likes as possible.

Please feel free to leave a comment below.

The Cortex Hub time line.

Written by: Onela Mpama

The Cortex Hub is an entrepreneurial hub where creativity is converted into successful businesses. The incubator is situated at the East London Industrial Development Zone for start-ups where entrepreneurship and technology innovation is a priority.

The Cortex Hub recruits approximately 35 BSC Computer Science students from different Universities in the Eastern Cape region. The students aim in the two year period is to establish their own businesses in the ICT industry and our aim as the Cortex Hub is to develop and empower these young graduates.

These Universities include WSU, RHODES, NMMU and FORTHARE. These students will be incubated in a world class environment that includes having:

  • the latest technologies
  • technical training
  • mentorship from international business leaders
  • Access to international investors.

The two year incubation period has different stages and processes which allow the entrepreneurs to grow their businesses from the idea phase all the way through to establishment of multi-million rand businesses.

Below are the different stages that an entrepreneur would go through during the incubation period.

RESEARCH

The entrepreneurs have to conduct research in order to understand the ICT ECO system. 30 different companies are chose and thorough research is done on these companies. The aim of this activity is for the entrepreneurs to see how other business founders started and managed even when they failed, giving up is not an option so that alone inspires and motivates the entrepreneurs to realize the purpose of being in the hub.

TRAINING

Equipping the entrepreneurs with the necessary skills and knowledge is done through the training provided. The skills provided (but not exclusive to) are:

  • Java
  • NFV
  • SDN
  • Business Intelligence
  • Business solving skills

The training that is provided is aimed at certifying the entrepreneurs with Oracle, CGEIT, PMBOK/PINCE2, CBIP, CBAP and TOGAF.

An internal hackathon takes place where entrepreneurs have to come up with a working product within 48 hours. This type of activities allow the entrepreneur to showcase the skills one already has and the ability to work in groups and under pressure but above all produce a product or service at the end of the day.

WomenHackersUnite is an external hackathon where women have to come up with technology solutions for women problems within 72hrs. The hackathon is open to all women and has a grand prize of R150 000. At the same time as the Hackathon a conference is held and different topics surrounding women were up for discussion. The conference attracts attendees through top guest speakers from the industry.

To top up all the training and hard work of the entrepreneurs the institute of directors will offer a special training for the entrepreneurs.

CIO VISITS

To help the entrepreneurs gain a better understanding of ICT companies they are provided with the opportunity to visit CIO’s of major ICT companies. The aim of the visits is so that the entrepreneurs can find out about the problems the CIO’s are facing in their businesses and to see how they can align IT to those businesses. The entrepreneurs will position their ideas to the CIO’s thereby getting constructive feedback. The visit will help get the entrepreneurs exposed and allows them to see how the CIO’s operate in the enterprises.

BUSINESS INCUBATION

During this phase the entrepreneurs will form the teams of four on their own and make use of technology and software around them to solve the socio economic problems. The entrepreneurs will have to come up with ideas, distinguish their target market and create the actual products for their markets which can either be national or international businesses that drive transformation within various communities.

Please feel free to leave a comment below.